Sunday, January 10, 2016

Blue Magic

Southern Command's boss, Marine John Kelly, stepped down Friday, 1/8/2016 (CSPAN). He gave his final press conference at the Pentagon. Kelly toured Iraq and lost a son to combat iSangin, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2010. The man put skin in the game for USA and lost. He bravely and honorably answered questions about his personal pain as a parent. His support for Gold Star families. By my count, Kelly fielded 16 questions. 6 concerned Guantanamo Bay detainee transfer operations. Prisoner logistics. People movement. To/from Cuba. 3 questions concerned Kelly's POV on Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He discussed women in combat.

Fighting in Sangin, Afghanistan. Photo attributed to Marines November 2010. The same month Kelly's son was killed.  "They had called it “Sangingrad.” American forces rotated in because UK public refused to accept the casualty count.
A question about Colombia. Venezuela. UAV. Kelly's opening statement emphasized the "great" 2015 KPI: 200 metric tons of cocaine. That's not counting what their Colombian partners interdicted within Colombia itself. (A comparable amount. ) Kelly answered no questions regarding the meaning of 200 captured tons. Was that really good news?  Do you want to capture more cocaine? Or less cocaine? How much cocaine was The Right Amount of Cocaine to capture in 2015?

Kelly didn't take those questions. Asked about UAV, he hypothesized his people could seize more - "I just need a helicopter". Drones would allow him to rotate humans from aerial surveillance to interdicting the commerce he can already "see", but not respond to. USA does not sell high-end drones to South American militaries - presumably prohibited platforms include Reapers and Predators. Kelly shared his understanding that South American militaries source higher-end platforms from Israel, Russia, China.

Kelly answered no questions about heroin. Kelly answered no questions about Sinaloa.  Kelly answered no questions about Mexico.  No questions about the 1000% growth in Mexican military spending according to his colleague in Northern Command / NORAD. Yet by that afternoon, Friday, Chicago Public Enemy #1 Guzman - Chicago's most wanted man - was in the custody of Mexican marines. Kelly didn't answer questions about heroin from Sinaloa, Mexico, Mexican marines killed hunting Guzman (Fox), stories of Sinaloa ghost towns (AFP) - because he wasn't asked. Not by a single reporter that morning. Why not? Good question. District of Columbia / Northern Command locals know or should know Opioid War tragedy close to home (Freddie Gray 2015).

CNN described Gray as the son of an illiterate heroin addict. (details)

Given Kelly's unique POV regarding military operations contra narcotics, counternarcotics featured in none of his remarks regarding Afghanistan. In none of the press pool questions posed to him. Yet consider this description (CNN 2015) of political economy in Sangin, the Afghan city which took his son's life:
A fertile region that is a key location in Afghanistan's poppy trade, Sangin lies in the south of the country in an area that has traditionally been a Taliban heartland.
"It was significant because of the routes it controlled and it was a very significant part of the resourcing of the political economy of Helmand, because it is a major center of drugs processing and drugs shipping," said Gordon.

Similar accounts of the narcotics war (Guardian 2007 , Guardian 2010). Comments in the Washington Post (1/4/2016) use of pinpoint descriptors of the war there:
“The issues in Sangin are so much deeper than Taliban versus ANA,” one of the last U.S. Marines to serve as a combat adviser in the district, Dom Pellegrini, told Checkpoint, using the acronym for the Afghan National Army. “Those categories aren’t at all adequate to describe what was going on, and I’m not sure I ever figured out what was going on. It was a drug war, I guess.”

Reasonable guess if recent regional, imperial history holds. Less than 100 years ago, and within the same region of the world, English soldiers fought the other side of the Poppy War - the export side. Consider the magnitude of the British trade during Raj colonial rule, 1830s - 1920s:
Opium steadily accounted for about 17-20% of Indian revenues. If you think in those terms, [the fact that] one single commodity accounted for such an enormous part of your economy is unbelievable, extraordinary.
In fact the revenues don't account for entire profits generated [out of opium trade] -there was shipping, there were so many ancillary industries around opium.
How much poppy, opium, and heroin is The Right Amount? Where does it all come from? Everywhere is different but here's what USA interdicts - which is a very different thing than "where does it all come from?" You trace only the commerce you capture:

Militarily, morally, medically, is this mode of engagement working? By what measure? 

My guess is many people don't know the frequency that we fight about the same plants. Different farmers. Traders. Bankers. Etc. They change. Poppy. Coca. Canibus. Different sides. Different times. Different needs. Do what's expedient and solve the problem at hand.

Intended or not, a side effect of the "Iran Contra" brand, as a public relation "handle", meme, or hashtag - #IranContra - is that it hides Central America in plain sight. "Iran" is the place. "Contras" were against something in Cuba or whatever...most people I talk to don't know. But "Iran" and hostages. That's magic. The Brown University project that hosts a significant cache of Congressional testimony and national security docs concurs on this point, introducing the subject this way:
The Iran-Contra Affair of 1984-1987 was not one affair but two separate covert foreign policy issues concerning two different problems, in two separate countries, that were dealt in two very different ways. Under the management of the same few officials, both the Iran and the Contra policies intersected at certain points giving rise to the singular title, Iran-Contra Affair. 
Geographically, the "Contra" part is people living on the Central American isthmus. The Central American Plans Nicaragua (84-87), Panama (1989), Colombia (1994), Mexico (2008) show consistent bureaucratic and mainstream buy-in the Contra war premise to control Contras, Escobars, Guzmans, Noriegas, Suarez, Maduros over thousands of nautical miles for plant products many people want to buy. Over a long time. Names like TR, Mahan, Monroe.

It's a big ship. It's a humbling expression of scope, scale, magnitude, consistency of "control" of Central America by USA Southern Command. They are the aerial and nautical power that enabled DEA, US Marshalls, and Mexican marine operations off the Gulf of California. So complete the control of that battle space, the District of Columbia press corp doesn't ask about it the same day that Mexican marines captured the world's largest drug trafficker. On the other side of that peninsula that sticks out from California.

Density of American Homicide (details)
Zooming in. Target rich battlefields for police, military operations contra interstate commerce.

$100B American "black market" narcotics. Dirty money becomes clean. The illegal becomes legal.  wars disappear in plain sight into blue screen.

blame Reagan for making me into a monster
blame Oliver North and Iran Contra
I ran contraband that they sponsored
before this rhymin' stuff, we was in concert

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